21st May 2022

Only Poland, Luxembourg expected at China Olympics opening

  • Police outside China's 'Bird's Nest' Olympic stadium in Beijing (Photo: THOMAS Y CHN)
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Poland and Luxembourg were the only EU countries expected to send top VIPs to Beijing's Olympics, as Russia and China use the games to forge closer ties.

Polish president Andrzej Duda and Luxembourg's grand duke Henri were the only top-level EU guests scheduled to be at Friday's (4 February) Winter Olympics opening ceremony, the Chinese EU embassy confirmed.

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Spokespeople for Duda and Henri did not reply to EUobserver when asked why they were going.

Publicly, only a handful of EU states - the Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Germany, Lithuania, and the Netherlands - have confirmed they were boycotting the ceremony on human rights grounds, along with Australia, Canada, Japan, the UK, and the US.

Other EU countries - Austria, Latvia, and Sweden - have blamed coronavirus restrictions.

And the rest have stayed quiet on their motives, after the French EU presidency tried and failed to agree a common EU line in talks by foreign ministers last month.

But despite the ongoing EU muddle, the 2022 games stand in stark contrast to China's 2008 Summer Olympics - when eight EU leaders plus the US president went to Beijing.

And they stand in even greater contrast to the last Olympics to be held in pre-pandemic times and in a democratic venue - the Winter Olympics in South Korea in 2018, when 13 EU countries, including France and Germany, sent royals or leaders to Pyeongchang.

"The participation of so many EU countries in the diplomatic boycott shows just how far perceptions of China have been changed by its bullying of Lithuania over [its closer ties with] Taiwan or Beijing's over-reaction in imposing sanctions on EU institutions in response to fairly mild EU measures against four Chinese officials associated with the repression of the Uighurs [an ethnic minority in China]," Jamie Shea, from the London-based think-tank Chatham House, told EUobserver.

"It reflects China's dropping stock in Europe," Raffaello Pantucci, from the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies in Singapore, said.

"The very widespread diplomatic boycott of the Beijing Olympics is ... evidence of China's negative 'soft power' - a combination of their wolf-warrior, thuggish diplomacy and their treatment of Uighurs and Tibetans," Bill Emmott, a British author on international relations, added.

The list of Western grievances also includes China's dismantling of Hong Kong's freedoms.

The EU foreign service did not comment on why so many EU leaders were staying away.

But a spokesperson for China's EU embassy told EUobserver: "A number of European dignitaries have made clear their opposition to the politicisation of sport and ... we have not heard of the EU boycotting the Beijing Winter Olympics".

"China has always maintained that the Winter Olympics is a grand gathering for global winter Olympians and winter sports lovers, not a stage for political drama and manipulation", the spokesperson added.

Putin-Xi summit

Meanwhile, Argentina, Egypt, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Serbia, and the UAE were among the 25 countries to be sending senior VIPs on Friday.

And Russian president Vladimir Putin was to meet Chinese president Xi Jinping for a summit alongside the opening ceremony.

Putin and Xi planned to publish a joint statement supporting Russia's call for new security guarantees from the West, Putin's foreign affairs advisor, Yuri Ushakov, told press on Thursday.

"Beijing supports Russia's demands for security guarantees and shares a view that the security of one state can't be ensured by breaching another country's security," Ushakov said, according to AP.

They will also sign some 15 trade accords that might include a new Russia-China gas pipeline.

The Putin-Xi summit comes amid a nadir in Russia's relations with the West after Putin parked an invasion force on Ukraine's doorstep and ordered Nato to pull out troops from eastern Europe.

China has backed Russia at the UN Security Council on the current Ukraine crisis in a way it never did in 2014, when Putin first invaded Ukraine, or in 2008, when he invaded Georgia.

And the ever-friendlier Russia-China ties posed a threat to Western interests, experts said, making the 2022 games into a geopolitical as well as a human rights and sports event.

Geopolitical games

"Putin is using his growing economic and military relationship with China to increase his leverage over the West and his ability to frustrate Western policy. It is paying off," Chatham House's Shea said.

"Embracing Beijing has big benefits for Putin: oil and gas sales via mega-projects like the Power of Siberia pipeline, using trade with China and access to Chinese finance to cushion the blow of Western sanctions against Moscow, and using the advantage of the resolution of the old Russo-Chinese border disputes to transfer thousands of Russian troops and equipment from the Far East to Belarus and the vicinity of Ukraine, thereby increasing pressure on Nato," Shea, who is a former senior Nato official, said.

"The two of them [Putin and Xi] are locked together because they are in confrontation against the West," Pantucci said.

"They fundamentally believe the West is out to overthrow their governments," he added.

"Russia and China share just one, but important interest - both want to dislodge and disrupt the West's post-Cold War claim to global leadership," Emmott said.

"They are two superpowers dedicated to working together to undermine the international rules-based order that the West trumpets," he added.


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